This is what has happened to a number of the left-of-center governments in Latin America.
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa was re-elected by a large margin in 2009, despite strong opposition from the country's media.
In Bolivia, Evo Morales has brought stability and record growth to a country that had a tradition of governments that didn't last more than a year — despite the most hostile media in the hemisphere and unrelenting, sometimes violent opposition from Bolivia's traditional elite.
And Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez survived a U.S.-backed military coup attempt and other efforts to topple his government, winning three presidential elections, each time by a larger margin.
All of these presidents took on entrenched oligarchies and fought hard to deliver on their promises. Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president in a country with an indigenous majority, re-nationalized the hydrocarbon — mostly natural gas — industry and created jobs through public investment, as well as getting a new, more democratic constitution approved. Correa doubled spending on health care and cancelled $3.2 billion of foreign debt found to be illegitimate. Chávez cut poverty in half and extreme poverty by more than 70 percent after getting control over the country's oil industry.
These presidents faced another obstacle that Obama wouldn't have — they had to fight with the most powerful country in the world in order to deliver on their promises. This was also true of President Nestor Kirchner in Argentina (2003-2007), who had to battle the Washington-dominated International Monetary Fund in order to implement the economic policies that made Argentina the fastest growing economy in the hemisphere for six years.
Of course, Hugo Chávez has been the most demonized in the U.S. media — but that is not because of what he has said or done but because he is sitting on 500 billion barrels of oil. Washington has a particular problem with oil-producing states that don't follow orders — whether they are a dictatorship like Iraq, a theocracy like Iran, or a democracy like Venezuela.
All of these leaders — including President Lula da Silva of Brazil — had hoped that Obama would pursue a more enlightened policy toward Latin America, but it hasn't happened. It seems that Washington, which was comfortable with dictators and oligarchs who ran the show for decades, still has problems with democracy in its former "back yard."
Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research; Web site: www.cepr.net.